Britain’s education tech firms ‘leading the world’

Sebastian Francis, co-founder of Titus Learning, outside Salts Mill.
Sebastian Francis, co-founder of Titus Learning, outside Salts Mill.
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British learning technology providers are leading the way on the international stage, ahead of even US firms, according to the founder of a Yorkshire education technology business.

Sebastian Francis, co-founder of Titus Learning, believes the positive messages about British goods and services promoted by the likes of Department of International Trade (DIT) are helping firms such as his that operate in the international market.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Francis said: “They’ve done a really good job of getting the message out there to other countries to say look at us, look at what we’re producing.”

“In terms of the technology and education systems being created, the UK is exporting some really good stuff.

“Both in the North and the South some of the stuff the education technology firms are pumping out is leading the way. Even above and beyond what America is doing.”

There are some countries, such as China and the UAE, where there is more of a demand than others for British education technology, says Mr Francis.

Titus Learning is used in English-speaking international schools and is distributed in 15 countries. Recently the firm, which has seven full-time staff, expanded into Japan.

The company was established in 2013 by Sebastian Francis and Mike Bennett. Previously they both worked together at another education technology firm.

Mr Francis and Mr Bennett set up the business with the intention of targeting international schools, which they felt were not being served properly.

The expansion into Japan stems from this focus on international schools, says Mr Francis.

“You’ve basically got a lot of expats in these hubs around the world whether that’s Dubai, Tokyo, Shanghai or Hong Kong,” he said.

“These expats are moving over for work. They need a good school to send their children, which is why you’re getting these international schools popping up. That’s always been very much the focus.”

Despite this focus on international schools Titus is also looking at other ways of expanding its target market.

Mr Francis believes there are opportunities in the university and corporate sectors, where there are requirements for professional development.

Titus uses Moodle, an open source learning platform of which it is a partner developer. However, it also develops bespoke platforms for clients.

Mr Francis said: “We’ve got the Moodle core offering but we’re also doing more bespoke development so clients can come to us and say we’re looking for this system but it doesn’t exist.

“We’ll figure out their requirements and we’ll build it from scratch. That’s again extending our target market.”

Over the next five years, the business is looking at grow to between 50-100 staff.

Despite the growth, Mr Francis hopes to maintain a base in Saltaire.

“There’s a nice story about the spot that we’ve got at the moment,” he said. “We’re in the Salts Mills which was built by Sir Titus Salt. That’s where we get our name from. We’re now in his old office.”

He added: “Longer term we’d look to open operations in East Asia as well.”

Sharing secrets with start ups

Sebastian Francis went to university for all of two months before realising higher education wasn’t for him.

The entrepreneur says he’s always been interested in business and went straight into work after quitting university.

Three years later he would go on to establish Titus Learning. The 26-year-old is now running his own podcast called Startup Secrets, to help answer some of the questions that he had when starting up his own business. He said: “I feel like everyone gets pushed down this route – go to school, get good grades, go to university, get a good job etc.

“Entrepreneurship is not that open as such. That was why I set this up.

“I get guests to come in who have been there and done it.”